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Character Build: Atmoran Totems - The Dragon

Tags: #Race:Nord  #Character Build Blacksmith  #Character Build Elementalist  #Character Build Enchanter  #Rank:Exemplar 
  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    In Skyrim, the totems of the old Atmoran gods can still be found – the symbols scratched into a stone protruding like a jagged tooth from a grassy field, or carved outside the entrance to a forgotten tomb. The symbols speak, it is said, to those who would listen.

    Some men and women are said to partake of the spirits of the stones. Even if they know nothing of the symbols or their origin, their companions remark how their strength rivals that of the bear, how their cunning is that of the fox, how their restlessness is that of the hawk. Such individuals body forth the totems in their minds and their hearts, their learning and their fighting, their being and their dying.


    This is the final installment in a series of nine character builds, each keyed to a particular totem. (See here for the first build, The Hawk, as well as an introduction to the project. Other builds include The WolfThe SnakeThe MothThe OwlThe WhaleThe Bear, and The Fox.) The race for each build presented in this series is assumed to be Nord, as those with the blood of the North are the most likely to bear the aspect of a totem. But just as the Dragonborn can be a member of any race, so too the call of the totems can be answered by any race of man, or beast, or even elf.


    The Dragon


    The Dragon is the display of unconquerable power. It is a totem of majesty, strength – and tyranny. Those who follow the path of the Dragon wield the destructive powers of the elements, and sheathe themselves in the hardest armor. But, like the dragons they resemble, their pursuit of power often leaves them vulnerable.


    To the Imperials, the Dragon is Akatosh, old Father Time, a strange but not unkindly figure who stands at the head of the cult of Empire. In Skyrim, Akatosh shrines and amulets confer boosts to Magicka regeneration: the power of the Imperial Dragon is the power to fuse and exchange time and energy. Just so, those of the Dragon totem seek to augment their own Magicka regeneration – the coiling and uncoiling of the reptile brain that fuels their destructive powers.

    But a follower of the Dragon is no cultivated battlemage, trained to support disciplined legions. To the ancient Nords, time was not about orderly beginnings and progression but violent upheaval and chaos signaling the turn of a new age. Their Dragon, Alduin, is destroyer-as-creator, the breaker-who-makes. Just as the gardener’s spade breaks open the earth in preparation for planting, so the hoary old Dragon will break this world to make room for the new. His followers bring a barbaric simplicity to the wielding of elemental power.

    Primary Skills: Destruction, Heavy Armor 

    Complementary Skills: Two Handed, Enchanting, Smithing

    Attributes: Strongly favor Health, keeping it around 100 points ahead of Magicka by the later game. A few points in Stamina in the early levels will help ease carry weight issues and provide for more power attacks. 

    Stone: Mage or Warrior, then Apprentice. Outfitted in heavy armor, those of the Dragon pass up the advantage offered by robes that increase Magicka regeneration. The Apprentice provides that benefit, along with a fitting weakness. After all, dragons are themselves vulnerable to elemental magics.

    The Apprentice is one of the most dangerous stones, but both its strength and its weakness reflect the all-or-nothing mentality of the Dragon. It allows followers of this totem to deal rapid waves of damage, but at great risk. The “berserker” quality of this stone is well suited to the followers of this most primitive and primal Atmoran totem.

    It is best to select the Apprentice after you have built up a large pool of Health, through investing in the attribute or through enchantments. I picked it up only at level 35; by then, my Health was around 300.


    Shouts: Bend Will, Call Dragon, Dragon Aspect, Fire Breath, Frost Breath

    These Shouts are all about dominance and raw destruction. Fire Breath and Frost Breath are the early mainstays, for obvious reasons. Eventually, with Dragonborn Flame, the character's Fire Breath will spawn Fire Wyrms from slain foes – a thematic option chosen over the more strictly useful Dragonborn Frost effect. Meditate on “Yol” with Paarthurnax to increase Fire Breath's power.

    After visiting Solstheim, Bend Will became the default Shout in my Dragon’s arsenal. One word of Bend Will can stagger; two words force animals and people to fight on your side – incredibly useful when facing down a cabal of wizards. And three words grant a boast-worthy prize for the Dragon totem: the ability to force a dragon from the skies to bear you in battle. 

    Finally, Dragon Aspect accentuates every aspect of the character, from his Shouts to his defenses to his prowess with a mighty battleaxe.


    Mask: Nahkriin (“Vengeance”). The dragon priest at Skuldafn has risen high indeed to be entrusted with guarding Alduin’s portal to Sovngarde. His mask fortifies the wearer’s Magicka and reduces the cost of Destruction and Restoration spells. Although the latter will not be used, this is an incredibly powerful artifact, offsetting some of the character's lack of Magicka investment. 



    Early level gear is Steel, with the Steel Horned Helm and Steel Plate everywhere else making a good look. Stalhrim heavy armor was the next set I used as soon as Smithing hit 80.

    My final set was a mix of Stalhrim and Dragonplate: Stalhrim boots (for better frost resistance), and Dragonplate everywhere else.

    Other pieces include the Helm of Yngol and Ancient Helmet of the Unburned; Amulet of Akatosh and the Gauldur Amulet; and Ahzidal’s Armor of Retribution. Ultimately, though, self-crafted gear trumps what you can find – which suits the Dragon’s arrogant temperament perfectly. Once Extra Effect was learned, I used the following enchantments:

    Amulet – Fortify Magicka Regen, Fortify Health

    Ring – Fortify Magicka Regen, Fortify Magicka

    Helm – Fortify Magicka Regen, Fortify Destruction

    Armor – Fortify Magicka Regen, Fortify Health

    Gauntlets – Fortify Two-Handed, Fortify Magicka

    Boots – Resist Frost, Resist Fire

    I carried 2 axes: one Stalhrim battleaxe enchanted with Frost Damage and Paralyze, and one Dragonbone battleaxe enchanted with Fire Damage and Fiery Soul Trap.


    Quests: Main Quest, Dragonborn, College of Winterhold, Companions

    The Companions and the College can provide the Dragon acolyte with training for both the combat and magic-oriented aspects of his power. The Companions also unlocks one word of Fire Breath. It is not essential to complete either quest, however (although the College grants access to the Ancient Helmet of the Unburned in Labyrinthian near the end of its questline – a thematically fitting helmet that shores up one of the Dragon's weaknesses).

    Solstheim offers tremendous power for those of the Dragon. As soon as possible, head to Kolbjorn Barrow with 1,000 septims in hand to kick off the Ahzidal excavations, opening up several key pieces of gear to fuel the Dragon totem's enchantments. The Dragonborn main quest is not only thematic (two power-hungry Dragonborn clashing to prove their supremacy), but also unlocks critical Shouts (Bend Will, Dragon Aspect) and powers (Dragonborn Flame).

    And as for Alduin, it will be the greatest achievement of those who follow the way of the Dragon to defeat the embodiment of destruction himself. Diving into Skyrim's main quest early will ensure that this acolyte of the Dragon has plenty of dragon souls to power his many Shouts – and plenty of dragons against which he may test his strength. I like to ensure I have all three words of Bend Will and Dragon Aspect before I've defeated Alduin, since there are many opportunities to put these Shouts to use along the way.

    Level 42 Perks

    Destruction – Novice-Master Destruction, Destruction Dual Casting, Augmented Flames (2/2), Intense Flames, Augmented Frost (2/2), Deep Freeze

    Heavy Armor – Juggernaut (2/5), Fists of Steel, Cushioned, Conditioning, Well Fitted, Tower of Strength, Matching Set, Reflect Blows

    Two Handed – Barbarian (5/5), Champion's Stance, Devastating Blow, Sweep

    Enchanting - Enchanter (1/5), Fire Enchanter, Frost Enchanter, Storm Enchanter, Extra Effect

    Smithing – Steel, Dwarven, Orcish, Ebony, Daedric, Dragon, Arcane


    Destruction is the purest expression of the Dragon's power, and the skill most strongly associated with Alduin World-Eater. Frost or Fire magic will work well against any opponent, making Shock spells unnecessary (and no dragons use Shock magic). The Dragon is not a battlefield controller; he welcomes close combat, so neither Impact nor Rune Master is necessary. Most-used spell tiers are Adept and Expert, for Cloaks, Fireball/Ice Storm, and Walls. The Master-level spells are used rarely; but even those playing without the Unofficial Patch will enjoy some use from Blizzard thanks to the weakness given by the Apprentice Stone. Firestorm is of most utility against swarms of weaker foes who won't interrupt the casting - such as mages and archers - or in situations when you can set up distractions or get the jump on your enemy. 

    Training in Heavy Armor allows those of the Dragon to shrug off powerful attacks. Every perk here is taken except the full complement of Juggernaut. This allows a bit more utility from Reflect Blows, which as James has shown only reflects mitigated damage. Reflect Blows won't add much damage in any case, but it's not nothing, and it symbolizes the character's mastery of his armor. A lower-than-cap AR is not much of a hindrance for a character who can deal incredible magical and physical damage, both passively and actively. 

    Not content with destroying foes from afar, those inspired by the Dragon take to heavy-hitting weaponry, wielded with fury when foes come near. Battleaxes are a good fit, offering great damage at reasonable speed, and can be enchanted to take further advantage of the character's expertise at binding flames or frost to metal. Perks like Devastating Blow and Sweep allow the Dragon to deal large bursts of damage rather than performing feats of speed or tricky combat maneuvers.

    The book Twin Secrets details a dragon’s exchange of lore for his life. Ambition comes naturally to those of the Dragon, making the lure of enchanting irresistible. The elemental perks are key here – to augment weaponry and resistances – and Extra Effect is the ultimate prize. Investment in Enchanting will get a boost from Seeker of Sorcery as well as Ahzidal's Genius. Stalhrim gear will further augment the effects of any frost enchants, making a follower of the Dragon a storm of frost and ice.

    Smithing is practically required for Dragon armor and weapons – an obvious endgame goal for this totem. It also helps lower-tier weaponry and gear keep pace as the character advances.

    Gameplay notes: Heavy Armor and Destruction can be difficult skills to mix: you're always hungry for more Magicka and more Health, making attribute and perk selections difficult at every level.

    When in doubt, favor Health. A tougher character is better able to benefit from the protection of Heavy Armor, and you’ll be glad for the extra resiliency after acquiring the Apprentice stone. Magicka is important, of course, but the Dragon doesn’t simply stand at a distance and hurl spells throughout the battle. Longing to plunge into the fray, he summons an elemental cloak, unleashes a few empowered blasts of fire or ice, and unslings his greataxe, hacking apart his foes as he re-focuses his Magicka.

    Destruction’s Wall spells are ideal for the Dragon totem. Robe-wearing mages with fragile constitutions usually have little use for Walls, unless they can find a way to stop foes from closing the distance. For the Dragon, Wall spells can be cast in the midst of a chaotic melee – let your enemies hack away at your armor while they burn or freeze.

    The Apprentice Stone is often seen as too great a liability for consideration. I found that, on Adept at least, the extra weakness to Magicka wasn't as bad as I expected. The Nordic resistance to Frost is a big help, and Yngol's Helm can be worn in prolonged fights against high-level frost mages, draugr, or frost dragons. Fire resistance potions are easy to find, and enchantments are easy to craft. Those who pursue the College questline to the end will also find the Ancient Helmet of the Unburned to add some extra resistance. The worst offender by far is Shock magic, with its instantaneous travel time. Stock up on potions to restore Health (and Magicka) and resist Shock – and make good use of any collected scrolls or Shouts to lock down shock mages.

    Even without using Alteration's Magic Resistance perks, enchantments of resistance to specific elements can be crafted and donned at will. Dragon Aspect provides additional resistance. And Bend Will can turn hostile casters – and even dragons – into allies, proving the dominance of the Dragonborn.

    One nice side effect of running with the Apprentice, though, is that it does make magic feel properly deadly, even on Adept difficulty. You can turn aside sword strikes and axe blows with ease on your plate-armored hide, slow down and freeze melee opponents, but you will learn to bring all your power to bear against the eldritch wizardry of high-level magic users.

    In many ways, Skyrim is about acquiring powers and proving your character's dominance. It feels rather fitting, then, to play a character whose goals are perfectly in alignment with that ethos. Unapologetic and unrelenting, the Dragon strides across Skyrim and the planes of Oblivion and Aetherius, with the power of his Voice and his Magicka echoing his strength, and his battle-scarred hide inscribed with the signs of a thousand victories.


    The Atmoran Totem builds:

    The Hawk

    The Wolf

    The Snake

    The Moth

    The Owl

    The Whale

    The Bear

    The Fox






  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    I literally was just thinking about this two days ago..."I wonder if Paul is going to finish the Atmoran Totems?" 


  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Yes, now I'm free!  FREEEEEE!!! 

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Fantastic build as usual, Paul. Well worth the wait!

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Glad you think so!  It's been almost a full year since I started this series.  Granted, a bunch of that time was spent studiously avoiding working on it - y'know, like all projects. :)

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Very poetic. Lines like "...Alduin, is destroyer-as-creator, the breaker-who-makes" shouldn't go overlooked. Truly a master of the craft Paul. 

    I also love the concentration of perks. One of my favorite combos: destruction + 2 handed + heavy armor.. 

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    I understand. It took 3 years to finish my latest album! haha

  • Member
    May 5, 2016


    It took me a couple tries to get this build right, actually. I first tried it last summer, but didn't put enough into Health and when I took the Apprentice stone at around lvl 20, I was just getting killed. I abandoned it for a while after that, figuring it just wouldn't work out, but thanks to a commenter on Reddit who was waiting for me to finish the series I gave it another shot.

    Battlemagery isn't something I've done too much in Skyrim, but this was a really fun playthrough once I figured out that I didn't need to focus too much on Magicka.

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Congrats for finishing!  I have a pretty good track record for *starting* creative projects, but not so much finishing them.  

  • Member
    May 5, 2016

    Awesome work Paul, and worth the wait!